Post-apocalyptic beach zombies. Welcome to "paradise."

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November 13th 2012
Published: November 13th 2012
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Jungle Book?Jungle Book?Jungle Book?

Man's new best friend?
Multicolored umbrellas cast shade upon the beach chairs below. A rainbow of frozen beverages locked into death-grips are slurped up by their consumers in a race against inevitable melting. Bikinis, speedos, flip flops, sunglasses. Forgotten smudges of creamy sunblock cling to unflattering body parts. Hot sun, scorching sands, boiling sea water. Lobsters turn belly up right in the surf and offer themselves with a side of melted butter...

It's officially the first place in Asia I've been where there are visibly more foreigners than locals. As if a virus-induced zombie apocalypse has hit Europe and a lucky bunch escaped only to rot away on this island. And like the doomed populations they left behind, the escapees drag their limbs down the sand grunting for piña coladas instead of brains. But isn't that why we traipse off to some beach at the edge of the world anyway? Isn't the goal to become more or less mindless in an attempt to forget about all our worries? To enable a groggy sedated state in which we marinate in for as long as time and money will allow?

This one long stretch of beach I walked along had countless occupied beach beds aligned

I don't know...
perfectly with even spacing in a cookie-cutter manner. I started looking at the lounging people's faces as I strolled by. If I had one dollar for every smiling face I saw, I'd have about fifty cents. You do the math. What I did see was the following:

1. A few bewildered blank stares that seemed to be the result of heat discomfort.

2. Displeased pouts accompanied by wriggling body-types that couldn't quite find the right way to lay.

3. Frowns hovering above open books suggesting the reader was hoping their paperback would morph into their wifi-enabled tablet they'd left back at home.

I had half a mind to walk up to some of them and simply ask, "Are you happy here? Do you even like it here?" but I didn't. Partly because I didn't want to come off creepy and partly because I didn't want to interrupt the self-torture.

Before I came here I was recommended to do so by multiple people, including this one backpacker that described Koh Chang as, "truly paradise!" Ive come to loathe this word... Paradise. I find it's being used too frequently and often out of context. What does paradise

even really mean? Palm trees? Beaches? Strawberry daiquiris? I looked up two definitions of the word 'paradise' written as follows:

1. A place of extreme beauty, delight, or happiness.

2. A state of supreme happiness; bliss

Hmmm... I must be in the wrong place.

I've noticed I sometimes paint a negative light on the places I write about. Not entirely, I mean I just try to portray my observations as accurately as possible. *grins innocently* I find pride in telling the truth and refraining from any sugarcoated text. But I'm wondering... lately, have I become a Scrooge? And of traveling no less; my favorite thing! Because Christmas is around the corner and I'd simply hate the nickname Ebenezer, I'm going to attempt to be more "glass half full." Besides, what better time for sugarcoating things than the holiday season, right?

Sweet sweet mango-infused concoction... I tilt the sweating glass up as each glob of frozen juice billows down my neck. With each gulp I momentarily forget about the ruthless sun. Kids play in the surf while their flushed-skin parents struggle to turn over in their beach chairs. Uneven tans. Timid ocean breezes. Some distant banter.
Elephant headshotElephant headshotElephant headshot

This is Kamoon, isn't she pretty? :-)
I kick my feet up, breathe in deeply and then release a long sigh. I imagine all my worries casting out into the sea, whisked away by the undertow. My eyes gently close and I (believe it or not) crack a smile. Yes, an actual smile. *I guess I'll add a dollar to that fifty cents from earlier* Squinting, I peer out from under one eyelid and notice my mango smoothie is nearly melted. I partake in a mixture of stirring and sipping in an attempt to savor every last ice chip swirling about the glass. I set down my nearly finished drink and gaze at the glimmering sea. I start to feel relaxed, and tranquil. This place is nice, i think. I feel... happy. Could it be? Could it maybe possibly (by some chance) just be... Paradi*coughs* Let's not get carried away with ourselves quite yet...

A husky white-haired man in a flamboyant blue speedo with a yellow sunset stamped on the rear walks past me and over to his wife. A black and white captain's hat sits on his head titling slightly to the left; his mustache perched on his grinning upper lip. *add another dollar* He
The captainThe captainThe captain

AKA my hero
looks like he's ready to commandeer a gay cruise ship. I can't help but admire his public boldness.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with an older man in Amsterdam. He explained to me that after a certain age it's easier to get away with "stuff." He claimed it's due to a mixture of not caring what others think anymore and the ability to blame your actions on the idea of becoming senile.

I'm not gonna lie, I nearly bought my own captain's hat and joined the trendsetter. But I didn't want to cramp the old man's style.

Well there's only so much lounging on the beach one can do before getting the itch for a little adventure again. Many people know Koh Chang by its nickname, Elephant Island. Upon arriving it's not difficult to see why. Elephants can be seen from the road grazing in fields and animal sanctuaries. So, naturally I booked an elephant tour.

First I'm driven to the center of the island (back in the jungle yet again). Secondly I'm thrown on an elephant that trudges into the wilderness, me bopping up and down and nearly falling off at one

Feisty "little" guy
point. After the trek it was feeding time. Whole bananas, unpeeled. Feeding them was quite fun other than the elephant snot remnants left on my hands from their trunks. *cringes* The last activity was the best by far and the reason i booked the tour in the first place...

They let us swim with and bathe two of the massive creatures. In the river, a dusty elephant would roll to one side allowing me to climb atop it and give it a good scrub with a special brush. Of course I got sprayed with trunk water and the whole nine yards. As he rolled to his other side I went plunging into the river. *Splash*. It was playfully amusing, and the other three tourists I was with were having a blast too. You'd have thought the four of us had coat hangers in our mouths with the everlasting smiles plastered on our faces. *4 dollars* I was laughing like I did in my youth and all it took were a couple of filthy elephants.

If there's any rule to eating on an island it should always be: Order the seafood. I went a little overboard and ordered curry

blue crab, BBQ'd snapper, and jumbo prawns. All in one night. Oh! And a sugary Coke! After turning my stomach into a saltwater aquarium I didn't feel a tad bit guilty about it. Nope. And I pretty much repeated the feast the following evening.

By my final day on Koh Chang i was in a particularly peachy mood. The once corpse-like tourists hankering down the beach seemed suddenly perkier. Livelier. The walking dead were now running, jumping, playing volleyball and very much... alive! And as if an antivirus and antidepressant had suddenly gone airborne, the energy level skyrocketed and smiles appeared plastered to everyone's faces.

Three people posing sillily for a photo. *3 dollars*

Two kids happily splashing in the surf with their parents *4 dollars*

Glasses clink in a group during a cheerful toast *5 dollars*

A flirtatious couple play-fight under the palms *2 dollars*

Which brings the total in the end to about $20.50. Hmmm... Not bad for a bunch of zombies. And, it's conveniently just enough to pay for my visa at the border. As i cross over into Cambodia i'll make sure to keep a keen eye out for this

And another day comes to an end...
elusive "paradise" I keep hearing about...

Where's my captain's hat?

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


How I lost two fingers...How I lost two fingers...
How I lost two fingers...

I'm kidding! It was three... :-p
Ping Pong Challenge???Ping Pong Challenge???
Ping Pong Challenge???

I hope it's nothing like Bangkok's "ping pong challenge."

13th November 2012

keep telling the truth
15th November 2012

Will do :-)
13th November 2012

Hope you find is out there...somewhere...awaiting you finding it. Great blog.
15th November 2012

It must be...
Thanks, I imagine when I do find it, I may throw some roots down and never leave. :-)
13th November 2012

love the way you write
to me Koh Chang is a paradise--I spend a week there every time I go to Thailand--you did get the best Elephant Camp--what beach were you on? I used to go to White Sands Beach--way up on the northern end--secluded-but now too expensive--now Klong Prao--much better
15th November 2012

Thanks David,
I spent most of my time in and around the Klong Prao area. I had a really nice time, I just wish there were more people around me doing the same. I didn't get a chance to check out the more secluded areas you're speaking of, shame, maybe I missed out...
14th November 2012

Paradise is quite individual!
Great read, it's amazing how many people comment in blogs about people not enjoying themselves on holiday or on their travels. It's such a shame as they will undboutedly come back wishing they'd made more of their trip rather than pouting on a beach all day.. why go you can do that at home! I think everyone has their idea of paradise.. each probably vastly different to the next persons. I have to say my paradise was not Koh Chang and found many many more beautiful 'paradise' places along our travels so keep looking and you'll find yours one day.
15th November 2012

Such a shame to see unhappy globe-trotters. I have found some people (including some of my friends) like the idea of traveling better than traveling itself. So my theory is these people book their trips in order to brag and feel a spark in their lives only to arrive at their destination and miss far too much the comforts and routines of their lives back home.
14th November 2012

Paradise Smaradise.
Here's the problem: When we hear the word "paradise" most people instinctively think of the beautiful white sandy beach. But, according to the definitions you gave of paradise, its actually more of a feeling...happiness! So maybe for some paradise is getting a bad tan and others its belly flopping with elephants. To each their own, but, for me personally, I'd rather be scrubbing the elephants.
15th November 2012

I think you and I have a more similar view of "paradise." :-D
15th November 2012

Not bad for a bunch of zombies
"Be curious, not judgmental." -Walt Whitman
15th November 2012

Is this Walt messaging me from the grave!? :-D
16th November 2012

What an awesome blog!
I have read your blog and, not only do I thoroughly enjoy your writing style, your photography is spectacular, as well. Consider a follower in me! Nanci Curry
16th November 2012

Thanks for the encouragement, Nanci! It's so wonderful for me to log in and see a comment like this. :-) I LOVE what you're doing in Central America and Mexico. What a liberation! Also (between you and me) Central America is still my favorite place I've ever been to, especially CR, Panama, and Guatemala (shhhh, don't tell anyone). ^_^
3rd December 2012

Oh man you have been traveling too long, friend.
This post made me a little sad for you, Matt. It didn't sound like you. There is a law of diminishing returns that applies to long-term travel and it sounds like you reached it, friend. We were in Koh Chang in 2009 (in the off-season, mind you) and loved it! We stayed somewhat off the beaten path though...pretty far south on the island near Hat Tha Nam (sp?). It looks like you went to Ban Kwan Elephant Camp? We did, too and I was torn about the whole experience (my feelings about those poor elephants). Although I know that they are supported by the Asian Elephant Foundation for their treatment of the elephants, so... But like I was saying, we had a relaxing time there. Now way did we want to go to Phuket or Phi Phi! Talk about touristy... “Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard Drop me a note soon and let me know where you are going to be storing your backpack for a while... Alicia

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